Santamaria helps opponents of golf course building plans going before County Commission

Palm Beach County Commissioner Jess Santamaria says it's no secret he opposes the proposal to build on a closed golf course in West Palm Beach. Sun Sentinel file

Less than a week before a scheduled Palm Beach County Commission vote on a contentious development proposal, Commissioner Jess Santamaria donated meeting space for a fundraiser aimed at fighting the building plans.

Santamaria has made no secret of his opposition to the proposal to build new homes, an assisted living facility and shops on a closed golf course beside Century Village, west of West Palm Beach.

But Santamaria took that stance a step further by donating meeting space in his Wellington mall to a residents’ group that Sunday held a fundraiser for their legal fund to take on developers.

Santamaria said there should be no “perception” concern with him helping the opponents of the golf course development proposal that he will be voting on because he has nothing to financially gain and has been open about his objections to the proposal.

“I just gave them the space for free, which I do for hundreds of organizations,” Santamaria said Tuesday. “They are all welcome.”

Santamaria and the six other county commissioners on Thursday are scheduled to consider the proposal to build 689 homes along with commercial development and an assisted living facility on the old golf course on Haverhill Road, north of Okeechobee Boulevard.

Development consultant Kieran Kilday, who represents the project, said he didn’t want to address Santamaria’s role in providing a meeting space for the project’s opponents.

“I would just like to deal with this project on the merits of this project,” Kilday said.

Fairways LLC, a development group headed by Andrew Waldman, is pushing for zoning changes needed to build on the golf course beside Century Village.

The proposed 689 homes include town houses and apartments. The 84,500 square feet of commercial space could include restaurants, doctors’ offices and shops. Plans also include a 100-bed assisted living facility.

Residents who oppose the development say it will bring increased traffic and crime, paving over a golf course that provides open space they expected to remain in perpetuity.

Bus loads of opponents from Century Village are expected at Thursday’s 9:30 a.m. commission meeting at the County Governmental Center in downtown West Palm Beach.

“I moved here to play golf,” said Century Village resident Honey Sager, who has helped lead the opposition. “The majority of residents here … don’t want the development.”

Almost 300 people attended the fundraiser at the original Wellington Mall – at the corner of Forest Hill Boulevard and Wellington Trace – where attendees were asked to contribute $30 each, according to the website for the residents’ group, the Proactive Committee of Century Village.

Fundraiser attendees received lunch and group t-shirts and had the chance to enjoy music and try to win prizes. Sager on Tuesday wouldn’t say how much was raised at the fundraiser.

Santamaria said he frequently allows community groups, religious groups and other organizations to use mall meeting space without paying rental fees.

Santamaria, a long-time developer, has long opposed changing development rules to allow building on golf courses.

Santamaria also championed county government ethics reforms, which included enacting a new ethics code for public officials and employees as well as those who do business with local government. That code particularly takes aim at conflicts of interest that result in a financial benefit for public officials.

“Everything I do is [on the] up and up,” Santamaria said. “Everything I do is to do what’s right for the people.”